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St. Louis by Richard Green

Star Trek: Live!
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Also see Richard's review of Jacob and Jack

Star Trek Live
Suki Peters and Jim Ousley
I consider myself an expert on at least two things in life: theater, and Star Trek. Sadly, neither of these lifelong devotions does any good in explaining the success of this strangely, effusively good-natured show.

And if I may be allowed to sidestep my own critical dilemma to analyze the audience for a moment, there were at least three "comic book guys" in the house who did not seem overly amused by the (nearly) word-for-word re-enactments of The Gamesters of Triskelion and Journey to Babel at all. And my two critic friends sitting along with me were as stoic as Mr. Spock, as far as I could tell. Me? Goldilocks. Class M. Just right. It was like Saturday afternoon in seventh grade, all over again.

So, be warned. Maybe you'll take it too seriously, like the comic book guys; or maybe just dismiss it off-handedly, like my critic friends. Or maybe, like me, you grew up giggling at all the wrong parts of Gene Roddenberry's 1960s magnum opus. And maybe (like me) you're just a sucker for endless camp, and someone who thrills irrationally to melodrama. But maybe—just maybe—this show gets by thanks to Jim Ousley, and his unrepentantly vivid portrayal of William Shatner as Captain. James. T. Kirk. He is breathtakingly baroque in his repertoire of Shatnerian ticks and takes. My favorite is the "winning smile" that pops up, occasionally, to charm a passing alien gal.

Most likely of all, though, Star Trek: Live! succeeds because of its space babes, Suki Peters, Amy Kelly, Beth Wickenhauser, and Ron Strawbridge (as Lt. Uhura)—"each, more exciting than the last" (as Kirk says in The Menagerie, Part II). Paradoxically, for a 1960s action/adventure saga, it's now these women, (and one proud black man in a red miniskirt) who really, consistently, put this comedy into warp drive, 46 years later. And each woman is (by turns) dimwitted, sardonic, and wildly satirical. Star Trek babes have never had it so good, thanks to director Donna Northcott. And thanks to these women, this strange, ultra-derivative, ultra-low-budget comedy really works (for most people, anyway).

That raises an interesting point. Most Trekkies would probably agree that the Star Trek movies have largely been marketed toward men, and the Star Trek novels have largely been marketed toward women. These campy new stage re-creations could, theoretically, go either way, but, in a brilliant comedic move, director Northcott seizes the opportunity to lead her modern actresses to fresher, fuller, more broadly comic takes than those available to the men on stage, who are stuck with their own plot-driven characterizations. The women (or, like Mr. Strawbridge, the men in miniskirts) can now add some pretty terrific social commentary to 1960s mores: becoming far greater beneficiaries of the staged re-creations than the series' "stars." It's like jumping the chasm from "Mad Men" to "Sex and the City." where women occupy entirely different social spheres, owing to the change in times and popular tastes. Maybe that's why the "comic book guys" in the opening night audience seemed less than entranced: in this re-telling, it's suddenly, deliriously, not about the boys.

But, back to the (unexpectedly cheesy) 23rd Century. Early in the first half, Ed Cole (as Spock) has a great moment that really freshens-up one of the old tropes of the original series: seemingly reviewing a young yeoman's report, after Kirk has vanished (to Triskelion)—we soon learn that the Vulcan is actually choosing fabric swatches to re-upholster the captain's chair, seizing his chance for command. He's also wonderfully tormented, in the second episode, by a visit from his parents. Dave Cooperstein is solidly cantankerous and contradictory throughout as Dr. McCoy, and funny shutting everyone the hell up in the evening's final moments. But somehow, in this tribute to the canon, James Enstall is the most consistently hilarious of all the ship's commanders, exploding in some "ex-folio" Scottish rage as the chief engineer of the Enterprise.

Not to take anything away from Blaine Adams, as a be-wigged Ensign Chekov—he's wonderfully disoriented on the planet Triskelion; and works up a sweat—well, some of it is Mr. Ousley's sweat-fighting a mysterious enemy on the journey to Babel. "Where is Mr. Sulu?" one of my critic friends whispered to me, as the ridiculous caper ensued. "He's off making The Green Berets with John Wayne," I confided, unburdening myself of a bit of useless information. See? Being a Trekkie is educational, too!

A cast of the usual suspects (including some very funny men, too) careens through the 100 minutes of groaning delight, including Ben Ritchie as the deadpan Sarek in "Babel." It's a good thing he's playing an unemotional Vulcan here, as he's doomed to surrender, again and again, to the overwhelming comic power that is Amy Kelly, as Amanda.

Through May 19th at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis 63112. For more information call (314) 863-5811 or visit them online at www.art-stl.com.

Crew of The Starship Enterprise
James Tiberius Kirk: Jim Ousley
Mr. Spock: Ed Cole
Dr. McCoy: Dave Cooperstein
Mr. Scott: James Enstall
Ensign Chekov: Blaine Adams
Lieutenant Uhura: Ron Strawbridge
Nurse Chapel: Beth Wickenhauser
Lieutenant Joseph: Suki Peters
Ensign Haines: Beth Wickenhauser
Redshirt #1: Tom Lehmann

The Gamesters of Triskelion
Shahna: Suki Peters
Thrall Master Galt: Paul Devine
Tamoon: Amy Kelly
Kloog: Chris "Mr." Jones
Lars: Ben Ritchie
Target Thrall: Tom Lehmann

Journey to Babel
Sarek: Ben Ritchie
Amanda: Amy Kelly
Gav: Tom Lehmann
Thelev/Shras: Chris Jones
Redshirt #2: Paul Devine

Artistic/Technical/Administrative Personnel
Director: Donna Northcott
Stage Manager: Kelly Robertson
Scenic Painter: Cristie Johnston
Costume Design: Wes F. Jenkins and Katie Donovan
Sound Design: Jeff Roberts
Properties: C. Blaine Adams
Lighting Design: Natalie Smith
Technical Director: Linda Lawson Mixon
Costume Construction: Alison Hayworth and Rachel Zluhan
Captain's Chair Created by: Dustin Massie and Brian Paladin
Box Office: Kathy Doerr
Postcard Design: Charlie Gaines

Photo by Kim Carlson


-- Richard T. Green

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